Karen Kimura

Rice is like the air, the sun, the sky; that which is so common... Sam Masami Otsuji

One time, while in Japan, a group of housewives asked me, "What kind of rice do you eat in America?" I answered, "white," thinking it was a sufficient answer, and everyone laughed in my face. They then proceeded to ask me a long list of questions. Is American rice longer or shorter than Japanese rice? Which part of America is it grown? Which rice is sweeter? Kathleen Teruko (Ige) Funaki

(Quotes taken from Karen Kimura's interviews with her family members.)

Do you often incorporate family stories in your work?

In most of my work there's always been an element taken from my personal background and my family's background. It is an area that I'm either familiar with or very interested in finding more information about and since I'm an artist, I have explored those areas in my artwork.

How did the idea for your piece for Finding Family Stories begin?

The piece is a bookwork that I started a couple of years ago when I was in graduate school. The idea that I had was to use the subject of "rice," which is something that is a part of life, of everyday life something that we eat all the time as Japanese Americans. I wanted it also to stand as a family tree. At the time, our fourth generation babies were being born in our family and the work that I was doing previously dealt with the past what happened with my parents and their families and my grandparents. But then I started thinking about where we are going in the future, and what I was finding was that there weren't that many stories or things that were documented things about where my grandparents were from in Japan, historical things that were never written down anywhere so there are a lot of holes and gaps in our history, our family history. So, as our family was growing, I wanted to document the people who are around now so that we have something for the future. I thought this would be a good time to start before it gets too big. I asked each family member on my mother's side to write a short piece about some kind of memory or experience or idea or thought that they had about "rice," whether it was around a meal or some kind of incident that happened. They each wrote a small piece and I'm going to incorporate their writings in this bookwork.

By choosing to portray your family stories in your work, you bring something that is private to the public. What do you hope to achieve?

That's a good question. Art is supposed to reveal something personal. There are a lot of things within Japanese culture we just don't talk about. I think that art is a good way to explore those things and to make people feel either comfortable or uncomfortable about talking about them or thinking about them. It is kind of a dilemma, even though that's how I was raised not to talk about things, not to deal with them, especially when I was looking into what had happened to my family when they were put into camp. No one had ever talked about it and when I had first heard about it, I was very angry and thought, "Why wasn't I told about this?" It is very important to talk about these things and to address them because a lot of different people have had similar experiences and can relate to them and share them. And it may not be the same exact experience but there is something that people can relate to. When people see themselves mirrored, they see their own reflection. It sort of gives them validity or it makes their existence become important—and everyone's experience is important, not just the ones you see portrayed in television or the media, which is very limited and very biased. I think art is just one way to (witness) that.

Karen Kimura is a Sansei (third generation Japanese American). She received her MFA in visual art from the State University of New York at Purchase. Kimura works in Los Angeles at the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team to promote AIDS awareness, HIV testing, treatment, and support services in Asian and Pacific Islander communities. As an artist, she is concerned with creating visual images and experiential moments which explore issues of cultural identity. She searches for processes reflective of personal experience and struggle in which art is used as a form of dialogue for social change.


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